With three forwards and two defensemen, the goalie position is the only one in the sport where one individual plays at a time. The cliché involving goalies is that they all are a little different than your average hockey player, and that mainly sticks because who else is willing to stand in front of a frozen piece of rubber flying at them at 85 miles an hour?
The goalie also can live up to that moniker, however, because of the amount of attention to detail he or she takes in picking out the right gear. Every goalie has his or her own style, in regard to playing and how he or she wants to look on the ice.
Rich O’Rourke and owner Paul Stanton are the primary goalie experts at Sports Etc. in Arlington, Mass., and they know what goalies are looking for.
“Most goalies are looking for gear that matches their style,” O’Rourke said. “Some goalies require pads that allow greater mobility, while others need pads that offer greater coverage and a tighter seal while on the ice. Also, we’ve seen a greater emphasis on top-shelf chest protectors, like the Vaughn VE8 Carbon Pro, and masks, like the Bauer Profile 960, as they take the brunt of a lot of the hardest impacts.”
Kaylie Dankevy, CCM’s assistant product manager for goalies, shared why she thinks goalies are the most interested in the gear available to them.
“I think a lot of it stems from a lot of goalies became goalies with a fascination with the equipment from a young age,” she said. “The equipment is so different. It’s pretty cool because it gets people excited. That set the foundation for being curious about what’s coming next and how different NHL players will portray their graphics.
“(A skater’s) elbow pads,” she added, “you could wear a new one, and no one really sees it.”
With goalies of different ages and experience, as well as different playing styles, the goalie equipment market is as diverse and competitive as ever. There are a couple key things the different companies are focusing on.
The EFlex 4 pads are the newest pads put out by CCM, and the highlighted feature is the DuaLiteCore technology.
“This year, we introduced our DuaLiteCore technology, which is taking the Pro Core and making sure the EFlex is very flexible below the knee,” said Dankevy. “That’s what its known for. Above the knee we made it a little stiffer, used a little more higher-density foam, and maintained the flexible knee below the knee and a flexible boot. It helps make it our lightest EFlex pad yet.”
Dankevy said the inspiration for the innovation came from the desires of the pro players, which then was used for products for all consumers.
Chris Joswiak, who works in pro service management, product development and marketing for Brian’s, also shared some trends that are trickling down from the pro game.
“One trend you are starting to see trickle down from the pros is smaller gear,” he said. “NHL established a few rules over the past few years, especially regarding chest protectors, pants and goal pads, which have shrunk the overall size of the goaltender and made them more streamlined. While this limits their surface coverage, we are seeing many goalies embrace the change and be able to move much better through the crease, which is now causing lower levels of goaltenders to adopt the changes.”
Not only are the manufacturers taking their cues from the pros on what to include in the newest line of equipment, the players are too. Young players want to play like the goalies they revere, they want to look like them as well.
“They automatically see Carey Price — he’s one of our biggest athletes,” Dankevy said. “He has a large following. (Young fans say), ‘Carey Price is wearing the EFlex 4. That’s what I want.’ We have a color way based on what he chooses. We find that color way to be very popular. If Carey Price went with his all-red set, we’d probably see a lot of kids going with a full solid color pad.”
If it’s not a pro a player wants to emulate, there are customization options to truly express one’s individuality.
Brian’s is known as the “custom goal company,” allowing goalies to choose their own style.
“If you can dream it, we can build it. There is really not much we can’t do, besides maybe make ’80s- or ’90s-style stuffed pads,” Joswiak said. “Ten years ago, when I started with Brian’s, I created some social media pages showcasing some of Brian’s custom work. Our social media has really taken off since then and have amassed over 100,000 unique followers largely due to the unique custom work we offer. Customization is really what sets us apart from the competitors, and doing customization correctly and professionally is the utmost importance to us, and a big kudos to our designer, Reo Roy, for much of that.”
For the 2019-20 versions of some of its best-selling products, Bauer has re-engineered the Vapor 2x Pro Goal Pad, developed a new fit for the Vapor 2X Pro Goal Skate and implemented a new blade for the Vapor 2X Pro Goal Stick.
Industry experts agree that revamped strapping systems are trending.
“A lot of emphasis has been on streamlining and lightening the pads by removing traditional leather straps and replacing with simplified strapping systems,” O’Rourke said. “These allow greater freedom of movement within the pads but also reduces fatigue. There is also a greater emphasis on the ability to slide across the crease.”
“The quick-motion strap system is all Velcro,” said Dankevy. “It’s built specifically to be able to handle the drop velocity of your butterfly.
“Honestly, it’s just where the industry has gone,” she added. “It’s simpler than traditional straps. The way we’re able to lay out the straps, they’re attached to the pad. You can get more responsiveness to that system. We work closely with an R&D specialist in Nova Scotia. He helped with the exact position and length, so you get the best fit and performance and the best overall for your body.”
The pads aren’t the only pieces of equipment that are changing for the goalies. O’Rourke discussed how the skates have changed as well.
“Goalie skates have evolved to become a critical part of goaltending,” he said. “The removal of the plastic cowlings, no longer practical or necessary for modern-day goaltending, allows the goalie greater attack angle to propel them across the crease while still in butterfly.”
New gear is exciting. Innovations can help the goalie do his or her job better. Still, the goalie can be a creature of habit. Goalie gear manufacturers have to find the right balance between innovating the product and giving goalies what they know, like and expect.
Companies are offering multiple lines of products hoping to have something for everyone.
“Premier 2 is about coverage. They like to kick out big rebounds and are a looser fit,” CCM’s Dankevy said. “The EFlex 4 family is a snugger, more flexible fit to keep pucks close and keep everything under control. Determine which family you fit under, and go from there.”
Brian’s has multiple lines of equipment as well.
“We now have two flagship lines, G-Netik and Optik, which both cater to a modern goaltender, and we have a standalone Heritage line that is for someone who prefers more of a traditional model,” Joswiak said. “The G-Netik and Optik will continue to push innovation but will now stay true to what they are known for, and the details, such as the glove breaks or the pad cores, will basically stay the same, so the goaltender can continue to order similar to what they had the previous set.”
Standing in front of those hard slap shots, which seem to only be getting harder through the years, can be a daunting task. That task is made easier when the goalie is confident in his or her equipment. No matter what innovations are on the horizon, goalies always want to know their pads are durable.
“Players shots are becoming increasingly harder and goalies are also seeing more ice time than ever, so it is crucial that the goaltender can rely on their gear to hold up and be durable to meet the demands of the sport,” Joswiak said. “Prices continue to increase across the board to play the sport of hockey and that includes equipment, so it’s important to the consumer that their hard-earned money is going toward a product the lasts.”
While things change, some things stay the same. O’Rourke agreed that no matter the technology or the style, fit has been, is and always will be the most important thing to consider when buying new gear, especially for younger players.
“Proper fit is paramount,” O’Rourke said. “Folks should come in open-minded as to what fits them best and will make them a better goalie rather than having a preconceived notion of a particular band or focusing on needing a certain color. Also, one critical mistake folks often make is going too big hoping to get extra time out of something. Typically, the negatives greatly outweigh the positives when you do this.
“Most importantly, if you have a goalie specialty store that you can visit for expert advice, it’s well worth your time. Trying to do something like fitting goalie gear online can be a mistake, as all brands fit differently.”